Senator Bob Smith
Environment & Public Works Committee
February 26, 2002 – “Water Investment Act of 2002”
Good Morning. I am pleased to be here to discuss our recently introduced bipartisan legislation: the Water Investment Act of 2002. When I became chairman of this committee in 1999, one of my top priorities was a renewed commitment to our nation’s water systems. I am pleased that Senator Jeffords has continued to make this a priority
This bill is particularly timely, as New Hampshire is in the midst of our worst drought in 50 years, and it has had a devastating impact on our water supply. One of the reservoirs, Bellamy, which provides water for a number of New Hampshire’s towns, is down over 50 percent. Our bill will help to alleviate these problems with new funding for water conservation, recycling and re-use projects.
We also take steps to address potential future water shortages. We require the U.S. Geological Survey to provide information on water shortages, surpluses and planning models. We also require streamlined procedures for the local governments to work with federal agencies responsible for water resources. This valuable information will be helpful to communities facing a severe water shortage like so many of those in New Hampshire. It will also help to minimize the threat of future droughts.
Beyond the drought, the nation faces a potential water infrastructure crisis. So much of our nation’s water infrastructure is aging and in desperate need of replacement. Coupled with the aging problem is the cost burden that local communities face in order to comply with ever increasing State and Federal clean water mandates.
This bill addresses these problems and makes structural changes to ensure that we avoid a national crisis now and in the future. I am a strong advocate of limited government and when it comes to water infrastructure, I do not believe the primary responsibility of financing local water needs lies with the Federal government.
I am equally adamant, however, that the Federal government shouldn’t place unfunded mandates on our local communities. We recognize both of these principles and strike a responsible balance.
The legislation authorizes $35 billion over the next five years in Federal contribution to the total water infrastructure need to help defray the cost of the mandates placed on communities. This is a substantial increase in Federal commitment, but not nearly as high as some would have preferred. Even so, this commitment does not come without additional responsibilities.
When the Clean Water Act was amended by Congress in 1987, a debate I remember well, we set up a revolving fund to provide a continual pool of money for water needs. Unfortunately, not everyone met their commitment to plan for future needs and what was not to be Federal responsibility became a Federal necessity.
This bill makes certain that we do not go down that road again.
The Federal government will help to defray the costs of Federal mandates, but with the new money comes a new requirement that all utilities do a better job of managing their funds and plan for future costs. We also make additional structural changes to the law both to address financial concerns and to help achieve improved management of these water systems.
One such change to the Clean Water Act is to incorporate a Drinking Water Act provision that allows States to provide principal forgiveness on loans and extends the repayment period for loans to disadvantaged communities. It will be a tremendous help to many struggling communities in New Hampshire and across the country.
It is my hope that we can move it through the committee process and see it passed by the Senate in short order. I believe that if we keep to this deal and not try and load it down with any poison pills, we can move this bill quickly.
One such poison pill is Davis Bacon.
According to GAO, Davis Bacon will increase by costs by 5-15 percent nationally and perhaps by as much as 38 percent in rural states like New Hampshire. Many states, like New Hampshire have long ago eliminated Davis-Bacon-like rules from their state statute books, because they want to maximize their investment in clean water. Davis Bacon will result in less capital improvement and less safe drinking and clean water. We need to spend every penny we can to get safe drinking water, and the way to do that is this bill, without amendment.
Big unions are beholden to prevailing wage legislation, because it supports their members to the exclusion of other workers. I believe all Americans should be treated equally and none should be held back the way they are by Davis-Bacon.
Davis-Bacon laws preclude the hiring of “helpers” who not only perform much-needed lower skilled work, but free up more experienced workmen for the more difficult tasks.
This bill is a bipartisan product, which is a testament to the hard work of the Chairman and Senators on both sides of the isle. It is my hope that we can move a clean bill -- one that will move through the process quickly and one that I can continue to support.